When you hear of the theft of the remains of Ifeanyi Nwobodo, something happens within you. Your heart shrinks. And a panicky flight kicks in. You seek refuge in expedient unbelief. Because you want to shield your sanity from admitting that such rape on reality happened.
This ghoulish heist is far and away greater than the normal disaster obscenity. It’s not a case of stealing from the dead. Not about Evil Samaritans filching valuables from the dead and the wounded in an accident emergency. This one registers at the ultra end of the absurdity spectrum. It’s about stealing the person of the dead!
The reflex reaction to this kind of tale would be to deny it validity. To look at the material evidence and negate its significance. To willfully derecognize it as an actual and factual incident: to let it perish. You are tempted to think that if you refuse to rehearse the foul affair, the damn thing would deport itself to oblivion. But that would be cowardly fantasy.
A thoroughbred Igbo is not permitted to affect indifference when he encounters a brazen act of desecration. He cannot plead silence. Or he would be deemed to be a covert supporter of the wrongdoing. He must show positive partisanship. He must vent against it. He must repudiate the piece of ugliness, not because that would suffice to remedy the situation, but because he needs to put a distance between himself and the defilement.
The Igbos believe that the dead have a right to honor. The Igbos believe that the tail of the lion must not be trivialized, dead or alive. The Igbos believe that the dead remains a vagrant until he is rightly sung and interred.
So I fulfill the duty I owe this bizarre affront on the dead. This is nso ani, an assault on the code for existing on this terra firma. I say to those who scripted and executed this abominable overreach, I spit out the forceful exclamation: Tufiakwa! To those whose mouths and hands aided those who objectified Ifeanyi because the dead couldn’t resist, I spit louder in your face: Tufiakwa!
This is the worst stealing can ever get. It is proof that we have peaked in sophistication. We have hit the evolution ceiling. We have stolen taxpayers’ money. We kidnapped grandparents for ransom. We have kidnapped girls for God. We have conquered the living. Now we advance to the next level. We are annexing frontiers of the dead.
The overtone of the tale is reasonably loud. It is scary but you must acknowledge that even death no longer relieves you of the Nigerian burden. If you passed a lifetime without a major devastating Nigerian experience, you may yet taste it as a dead person.
This belongs to a species of incidents that are so distinctly despicable, so gross in depravity, they embarrass the perpetrator and whoever had the ill luck of being present to witness it. It’s even more awkward when the dramatis personae reflect a sense of shame in deficit. All the embarrassment alights on the audience of the unwieldy drama.
It must have been traumatic for the watchers, a gathering of people from all friends and associates, mourners and clergy. They had come from far and wide to see off a man who lost the battle with cancer. Alas! They made a wasted journey. It was a no-show burial. A burial that could not begin because the corpse was absent. There were still sympathizers but their role had been abruptly altered by the turn of events. They came to comfort and wipe tears away. But now they were to sympathize with a family that dared to ridicule itself more than any adversary could have achieved.
In every self-respecting culture, the relatives of the dead and the immediate society are indebted to give him respectable farewell. They are under obligation to honor him, to ‘pay their last respects’. They affirm that he mattered. That he was more precious than an animal, that he was human. That he left a memory, a legacy. The bereaved, at least, for the sheer significance of the occasion, dismiss previous differences and rise to their best social graces. Ifeanyi was entitled to such courtesy. But he was denied. Denied by his immediate family.
A spirited disputation arose over where to lay him. To the clan, it was a no-brainer. The young man- by any stretch of the imagination- had not died a shameful death. He did not die while committing a crime that tarnished the family name. His resting place would be in his father’s compound; he was a bona fide son. But his father wanted the dead son disposed elsewhere, out of sight. And so there was a stalemate: one adamant man locked in an unblinking gaze with his entire kinsmen and culture.
While the standoff lingered, guests waited for a resolution. But the worst case scenario materialized. Ifeanyi’s corpse was declared missing. His body had been stolen from the morgue. The cleverer of the two parties had grabbed a bargaining chip!
It was an impasse for the wrong reason. Nobody considered what was sure to happen no matter where a corpse was buried. Has the site of a grave ever averted the ultimate destiny of decay?
It was a stupid battle. It should never have happened. Death is enough tragedy on its own. It becomes a worse tragedy when a funeral, an occasion of pathos and solemnity, turns into a clash of gladiators. That ego wrestling took place on the wrong occasion. A burial is a duty to the dead; but it is a favour to the living. It reminds us that we are dispensable, that we are a fleeting breath away from expiration?
If the key actors had been in touch with their mortality, they would not have been miserly or grudging to deny the dead a small part of the earth for a grave.
The patriarch of the family has come out to blame his kids. But this is not a family matter. It is more serious than the pranks of errant children. This is an obvious case of criminality. A case of morbid robbery. And the Nigerian state must wade in and apprehend the culprits.
Even if Ifeanyi was a not medical doctor; even if he was not former commissioner in Enugu state; even if he had a less recognizable name; even if his father was not a former governor, he still deserves justice. He was a Nigerian citizen. The state must recover his body and give him some redemption.
If Nigeria has failed the living, we can stand up for the dead. If we have all but conceded the now legendary Chibok girls to Boko Haram, a clear eight months after they were kidnapped, we can retrieve Ifeanyi’s body and give his memory a decent closure.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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